A Guide To The Different Types Of Counselors
When deciding to participate in therapy, it can be beneficial to consider the effective and ineffective counseling characteristics for the type of mental health professional to consult. For example, you might want to see a guidance counselor, family therapist, or social worker. As the mental health field grows, several types of psychotherapy and professionals have emerged. With more options than ever, including those related to LPC meaning, it might seem overwhelming to choose. If you're unsure about a particular option, such as therapy, don't hesitate to ask questions like "What does IPC stand for?" to help you make an informed decision.
While all clinical professionals meet similar clinical requirements for competency, each mental health profession has its own specific training requirements, and some have a specific specialty. Learning more about each type of counselor and knowing how to find the right counseling services can help you make an informed decision when choosing someone to work with.
Types Of Counselors
Much like the extensive list of doctor specialties, and types of counseling, the list of counselors can also be extended. However, all counselors can offer mental health support regardless of who you visit or what treatment you choose. Seeing a counselor, in general, can offer benefits.
For some, therapy may seem embarrassing or scary. However, over 41.7 million individuals see a therapist in the US, and you are not alone. If you're feeling uncertain about your counseling journey, let your therapist know; they can help you feel more comfortable in your sessions.
Clinical Social Workers (CSW)
Clinical social workers receive advanced training in assessing, diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental illness and other behavioral disorders. They might also have training in social causes like community aid and humanitarian work. Clinical social workers have more clinical experience than professional social workers who are not trained in clinical work. These providers have completed the required master's program in social work (MSW), internship, and post-graduate supervision hours, and have passed a national exam.
Clinical social workers provide professional counseling services to prevent, diagnose, and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders in individuals, families, and groups. They aim to enhance and maintain their patients' physical, psychological, and social functions. Clinical social workers must have a master's or doctorate in social work, emphasizing clinical experience. They must undergo a supervised clinical field internship and have at least two years of post-graduate supervised clinical social work employment.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) And Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC)
A mental health counselor's education is explicitly geared toward clinical assessment, treatment, and psychotherapy. Mental health counselors receive training in mental illness, psychotherapy, and clinical intervention services. A licensed mental health counselor must complete a master's program, internship, and post-graduate supervision hours. They are also required to pass a state licensing exam.
Clinical mental health counseling is a distinct profession with national standards for education, training, and clinical practice. These professionals are highly skilled and provide flexible, consumer-oriented therapy. They combine traditional psychotherapy with a practical, problem-solving approach that creates a dynamic and efficient path for change and problem resolution.
Clinical mental health counselors offer a full range of services, including:
- Assessment and diagnosis
- Treatment planning and utilization review
- Brief and solution-focused therapy
- Substance use treatment
- Psychoeducational and prevention programs
- Crisis management
In today's environment, clinical mental health counselors are qualified to meet the challenges of providing high-quality care cost-effectively. CMHCs have a foundational skill set distinct from other behavioral health disciplines. Their training in addressing the whole person's needs and wellness and prevention makes them well-situated to lead the effort in integrating health care.
Graduate education and clinical training prepare clinical mental health counselors to provide a full range of services for individuals, couples, families, adolescents, and children. Licensure requirements for clinical mental health counseling are equivalent to those for clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists, two other disciplines that require a master's degree for independent status.
- Earned a master's degree in counseling
- Completed a minimum of two years post-master clinical work under the supervision of a licensed or certified mental health professional
- Passed a state-developed or national licensure or certification examination
Whether you are living with a mental illness or experiencing issues navigating life, a professional mental health counselor may help you.
Licensed Marriage And Family Therapist (LMFT)
Marriage and family therapists focus on relationship, marital, and family conflicts related to mental health. They often work with couples, parents, children, siblings, and other families to address family dynamics and tackle interpersonal issues, such as divorce, communication, and parenting. The training of a marriage and family therapist is similar to other mental health professionals, requiring a master's level education in mental health and clinical supervision hours, followed by a clinical exam.
Distinctive from a licensed social worker (LSW) and a licensed professional counselor (LPC), a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT or MFT) is a rigorously trained mental health care professional that works to understand mental health within the context of family and social environments. Often referred to as systems therapists, marriage and family therapists treat groups as systems with individual parts. Whether the client is an individual, a couple, or a family, the goal is to change problematic, repetitive interactions that either contribute to or continue to allow unwanted cycles.
A family orientation and rigorous training requirements make LMFTs uniquely qualified to provide mental health services to these groups. LMFTs are trained in various modes of therapy to prepare them for this work. The training of LMFTs includes live supervision by experienced LMFTs.
Marriage and family therapy is often cost-effective, short-term, and results-oriented. Clients report high satisfaction with marriage and family therapists, experiencing significant improvements in interpersonal relationships, emotional well-being, and physical health.
Clinical Psychologists (Ph.D. Or PsyD)
A clinical psychologist is a mental health professional who has received a doctoral degree. However, they cannot prescribe medication. Like other mental health professionals, clinical psychologists are trained in assessment, diagnosis, and therapeutic practice. They can offer different types of therapy support and counseling as counselors. However, they may have more experience in a particular specialty and the mental health field overall. They may charge more for their services due to this experience.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have received advanced training and education in mental health and psychiatric disorders. Psychiatrists often focus on medication management by prescribing psychotropic medication. However, many do not offer counseling services. Instead, you might expect to meet with a psychologist for your therapy and a psychiatrist for medication management.
Psychiatrists can provide traditional mental health treatment and talk therapy, and many do. However, ask your psychiatrist what services they offer if you're looking for therapy instead of medication or diagnosis.
How To Prepare For Counseling
Having the knowledge about who to consult can be beneficial. However, you might not find it helpful if unprepared for counseling. Below are several tips to help you enter a successful therapeutic relationship with a provider.
Determine Your Reason For Seeking Support
Knowing what you are experiencing and why you seek support can help your counselor understand how to treat your concerns. Counselors can support issues from mental illness to general life stress. In your first intake session with a provider, consider having a list of your symptoms or concerns handy to start the discussion. Your therapist might also ask you questions to further understand why you've reached out. Anyone can attend therapy, regardless of their diagnostic status or symptoms. Therapy is not only for mental illness.
Be Open-Minded To Receiving Treatment
Therapy might not work for everyone. However, being unwilling or closed off to treatment may hurt your chances of success. If you are resistant to accepting the course of treatment that your therapist recommends, don't believe that therapy works, or are unwilling to let your therapist explore your symptoms, therapy might be ineffective. Try to come with an open mind. Therapists are there to guide you, and a lot of the work comes from the steps you take in treatment.
Ensuring a suitable therapist may help you get the most out of treatment. Before you attend therapy, consider having a list of questions prepared for your therapist. For example, you could ask them:
What are your qualifications and relevant experience?
How do you go about treating my specific symptoms?
What does an average session look like?
What approach do you take to treatment?
What method of treatment do you specialize in? Why is it best for my concerns?
After having an initial consultation with your therapist, you may determine if they are qualified to treat your concerns or if you feel you might find a more suitable fit elsewhere. It might signify a need to switch therapists if you feel uncomfortable with your provider.
If you're ready to start counseling, many options are available. You can consider searching online for a therapist in your area, asking your insurance company for recommendations, or getting a referral from your primary doctor. If you don't have insurance or face barriers to treatment, you can also consider seeing a therapist online.
Studies show that online therapy can be an effective treatment for a broad array of symptoms. In one broad-based review, the benefits of online therapy were evaluated. Researchers aggregated results from over 90 studies—including almost 10,000 participants—on issues ranging from panic and anxiety to smoking cessation and body changes. Researchers concluded that internet-based counseling was as effective as in-person methods when treating anxiety, depression, and everyday challenges.
With online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a therapist after filling out a brief questionnaire. The questionnaire will ask about your symptoms, reasons for seeking treatment, and preferences for a therapist. Within 24 to 48 hours after submitting your payment, you will be matched with a provider that meets your needs, removing the overwhelm of finding a provider. When you are matched, you don't have to consider which therapist might be best for you. However, you can switch providers anytime if your match doesn't fit.
“In only one month of therapy with Michal, I was able to discover a lot of aspects of myself. She was skillful in asking all the right questions and targeting the core issues and problems. The video sessions were very comforting, I felt connected immediately, and the conversations were well rounded, focused, and efficient. We managed to cover all of my main concerns. Moreover, Michal provided me with extra material, tools, and techniques to rely on when I am experiencing difficulties, and those techniques are already changing my everyday life. I feel very fortunate that I had the chance to work with Michal.”
“Heather is very easy to talk to and very sincere. She patiently listened to me describe what I felt was such a multi-layered, complex situation that I feared I’d never be able to find my way out of. However, she was able to very quickly identify the underlying problem at the heart of it all. I feel less overwhelmed, more in control of my life & my relationships. I know that I can reach out to her if I find myself struggling, at any time between scheduled appointments. And I complete every appointment feeling less anxious, more hopeful for my future, & better able to accomplish the things I’d been too overwhelmed to do previously. I have told families & friends about my satisfaction with BetterHelp, as a service that provides ease (being able to work with my counselor from home & not worrying I’ll have to cancel an appointment if health issues flare) & is a wonderful value for the extremely reasonable monthly fee. My counselor checks in with me on an almost daily basis, which provides a reassurance just knowing she’s there if I need her. I have seen a handful of counselors in the past, and they were all very kind, but I did not feel confident in their actual ability to help. This is not the case with Heather. I believe her treatment plan is on point, realistic, and will be effective. Most of all, I feel that I will be in a much better place mentally/emotionally and in my close relationships as a result of the work I am doing with Heather.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are a few frequently asked questions on the topic of counseling.
Does Therapy Work?
For many people, therapy is effective. Therapists have spent years learning about the human mind and how people behave. They teach their clients through techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, a highly effective form of therapy.
However, therapy often requires the client to participate and be willing to make changes. Therapy might not be effective if you do not make an effort. At times, treatment might feel uncomfortable. However, you can work with your therapist at a pace that feels healthiest for you.
When Should I See A Counselor?
You can see a counselor for any reason, including mental illness, distressing symptoms, relationship challenges, substance use, significant life decisions, and transition periods. You do not need a mental illness or severe symptoms to talk to a therapist. Counselors are experts in giving research-based guidance personalized to your concerns.
Everyone may seek therapy for different reasons, and each reason can be valid. If you're contemplating seeing a counselor, that might signify you could benefit from a therapist. You can stop seeing a therapist anytime if you change your mind.
What Is The Difference Between A Counselor And A Therapist?
"Counselor" and "therapist" are often used interchangeably. However, there are some differences. Often, the term "therapist" can refer to a provider with a doctorate in psychology, whereas a counselor may have a master's degree in clinical counseling. Therapy might also be more prolonged, while counseling may be a short-term treatment.
What Is The Difference Between Counselors And Psychologists?
A psychologist is an individual with a doctorate in psychology. They are not necessarily therapists, but many psychologists work in clinical psychology. However, others work in research or as professors. Psychologists can also diagnose mental illness and perform diagnostic testing. Counselors can only work in counseling environments or mental health careers for those with a master's degree.
What Are The Five Stages Of Counseling?
There are no set five stages of counseling. Many counselors work in their own way to help their clients with various stages and practices. However, you might expect the following from therapy:
Identifying the client's goals and expectations
Identifying a client's strengths and weaknesses.
Drafting a treatment plan
Providing treatment and monitoring results
Closing out treatment with success or moving on to a new form of treatment
Do Therapists Hug Their Clients?
Some therapists will have a no-contact rule, while others may offer a hug. If you don't want to be touched by your therapist, let them know. Therapists are required to follow ethical guidelines, and touch may cross boundaries, so many therapists choose not to.
What Are The Benefits Of A Counselor?
Counseling has many benefits, and they can differ from person to person, depending on the counseling you're seeking. Some potential benefits include but are not limited to the following:
Improving self-esteem and self-compassion
Learning interpersonal skills
Identifying areas of growth
Meeting therapeutic goals
Feeling cared for and less alone
Can Therapy Have A Negative Effect?
For many people, therapy has positive effects. However, you might experience adverse effects if you're meeting with an unprofessional therapist, not putting work into your sessions, or discussing a challenging topic that causes emotional distress. If you feel negatively impacted by your sessions, let your therapist know so you can devise a plan to change it.
How Long Does Therapy Take To Work?
The time that therapy takes to start working may depend on what you're seeing a therapist for, what type of person you are, how often you undergo treatment, and your therapy goals. You might see improvements in the first few sessions or after a few months of sessions. If you're attending therapy for a short-term problem or concern, you might notice improvements quicker. If you're attending therapy for long-term trauma or extreme emotional distress, you may notice minor improvements over a more extended period.
What Type Of Counselor Gets Paid The Most?
How much a counselor makes can depend on many factors, like where they live, how many clients they see, and their specialty. Counselors with a doctorate may make more than those with a master's degree. In addition, those working with a specialized population, like prison inmates, may make more due to the risks of their job.
How Do I Start A Career In Psychology?
To start a career in psychology, you must enroll in a bachelor's program. Many individuals choose a bachelor's in psychology or sociology. Afterward, you will attend a master's program, often around two years. If you want to be a psychologist, you can attend a doctorate program like the PsyD program.
Every practicing counselor must have a certain number of hours of clinical experience with supervision. The number of hours can depend on your state. After your clinical experience, you can take the board exams for your state and start offering counseling once your license arrives.
Can You Be A Counselor With A Master's In Psychology?
Having a master's degree in psychology can be a start. However, you will also need clinical hours and licensing to offer counseling. Check with your state board if you're unsure of the requirements.
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